A real Asia pivot
Why Donald Trump should meet with Taiwan’s president
For far too long, the United States has stood idly by and allowed the People’s Republic of China to conduct what is charitably described as a massive power grab throughout the Asia-Pacific region. Looking back just a few years ago, such a statement seemed unimaginable. Under the leadership of President Obama, while America has talked about pivoting to Asia with robust rhetoric, we have offered the world’s most economically dynamic and strategically important part of the globe some impressive photo-ops, but little substance to ensure the statusquo — which has allowed Asia to enjoy decades of peace, stability and unparalleled economic opportunity — would be preserved.
China, sensing clear weakness, has been all too eager to capitalize on our mistakes. From entrenching themselves in the South China Sea thanks to a quick build-up of fake islands with growing military bases now sitting atop of them, starting what can be described as a dangerous game of high-seas chicken with our ally Japan in the East China Sea — all thanks to a massive military machine that is in part powered by stolen American technology — the stage is set for Beijing to dominate the region in the years to come.
From there, things could get even worse. As China marches towards hegemony in Asia, one country stands to lose far more than any other, and, if trend lines continue, could not only fall under China’s sway but actually be absorbed into its borders. That nation, and it is a nation in every sense of the word, is none other than the Republic of China, or what is commonly known today as Taiwan.
Thankfully, and most timely, change is coming to America’s Asia policy, especially when it comes to Taiwan. President-elect Trump, in words in as well as in deeds, has shown he will push back against Chinese aggression, ensuring the region remains at peace.
So, while I not only applaud Mr. Trump’s 10-minute phone call with the democratically elected leader of Taiwan, Tsai Ing-wen, I would argue Mr. Trump should take the next logical step. If our new president truly wants to break with the old foreign policy molds that simply no longer work and push back against Chinese coercion I have a simple solution: meet with President Tsai when she passes through the United States next month.
The reasons Mr. Trump needs to meet Taiwan’s leader are obvious. First, this small but scrappy democracy of just 23 million people has been eager for a greater relationship with Washington for decades and is in both nation’s mutual interest. Taiwan is America’s 10th largest trading partner and is eager to sign a bilateral investment treaty, especially now that the Trans-Pacific Partnership will not move forward. A meeting between the two heads of state would be a good way to jumpstart negotiations that could see both nations gain clear economic benefits for years to come.
Second, no nation that is a responsible democracy that respects the rule of law, that has a vibrant press and strong record on human rights deserves to be treated as an international second-class citizen. While Taiwan, the birth child of a Chinese civil war that is yet to be brought to a clear conclusion, would find it difficult to be granted full diplomatic recognition by Washington — Beijing would see this as a clear move towards independence and could spark a war — Mr. Trump should ensure ties are enhanced to just below this level, as a clear sign of support for the Taiwanese people.
Last but not least, if China were to ever gain control of Taiwan, it would have unfettered access to the Pacific Ocean. At present, geographic realities make it difficult for Beijing’s naval forces to sail into the wide expanses of the Pacific without passing through certain chokepoints, chokepoints that could be reinforced with weapons that could deter China from sailing into open waters in the event of a crisis. Indeed, Taiwan might just be the most valuable piece of strategic real estate in the whole of East Asia, all the more reason this nation must become a true ‘arsenal of democracy’ — armed with the best and most sophisticated American weapons to deter any hostile act.
America’s most important goal — that it shares with partners and allies across the Asia-Pacific and wider Indo-Pacific, in which Taiwan is a pivotal part — is the maintenance of a peaceful and prosperous status-quo that ensures no one nation unilaterally coerce others or attempt to bend their will through forced measures, turn near-seas or oceans into territory or use hostile acts to achieve its aims. There can be no better way to advance such a cause than to meet with the president of Taiwan.
Harry J. Kazianis serves as director of defense studies at the Center for the National Interest, founded by former President Richard M. Nixon, and is executive editor of The National Interest.